[email protected]

April 22, 2012, Sunday

What are The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune after?

I was quite taken aback as I read “Shadow force grows in Turkey,” co-written by Dan Bilefsky and Şebnem Arsu, which appeared at the International Herald Tribune (IHT), the international edition of The New York Times (NYT), on Wednesday.

I couldn’t understand why the NYT and the IHT, one of those newspapers whose main credit is their respectability in the eyes of their readership, should run headlines about the hallucinatory suspicions nurtured by some ever-marginalizing groups in Turkey, as well as their ravings about some illusions which they have never proven and their distortions that do not correspond to realities in any sense.

What surprised me was Gareth Jenkins -- who emerged as a full-fledged Gülenophobic figure while laboring as a collaborator with subversive groups within the Turkish military and also serving the interests of militarist/Kemalist/neo-nationalist (ulusalcı) circles -- or Ahmet Şık -- who, with a boost from the same circles, turned his animosity against Fethullah Gülen, a well respected Turkish Islamic scholar, into a paranoia -- had said. Rather, I was shocked to see the words directly quoted from Ayşe Böhürler, a respectable figure who I believe knows well who is who and what is what in Turkey. Indeed, the IHT’s news story reads: “Ayse Bohurler, a founding member of the Justice and Development party, bemoaned that the lack of transparency and clear organizational structure make it impossible to hold the group accountable. ‘There is no reference point, they are kicking in the shadows,’ she said. ‘They are everywhere and nowhere.’”

I was not surprised to see that on Saturday, Böhürler denied the above-mentioned quotation first on Twitter and then via a news agency. As far as I understood, Böhürler had been subjected to yet another horrible distortion by the Western media networks, this time by the NYT/IHT reporters, under the influence of some powerful lobbies who are affiliated with the old elites of Turkey. I think Böhürler is one of the people who know best about the Hizmet movement, which, to the witness of the public, only seeks to promote global peace and intercultural dialogue by establishing educational institutions across the world, and which has swiftly become a global phenomenon thanks to strong support given to it by people in more than 140 countries for its humanistic efforts that do not discriminate between races, religions or languages. As she also knows that the Hizmet institutions are subject to all sorts of legal arrangements and inspections in all these countries, including Turkey, she couldn’t have said those misquoted words.

Speaking to the Cihan news agency, Böhürler said, indeed: “It would be impossible for me to say such things. I will also send a disclaimer to the newspaper.” Noting that the quotations used by the IHT reporters were not what she really said to them, Böhürler indicated: Şebnem Arsu was translating my remarks, but she did not take any notes during the interview, and she made a translation in her own way. As I understood from the resulting article, my words were not correctly translated for the reporter. The spots used in the article are irrelevant to what I said... The remarks published in the report do not belong to me.”

Böhürler also notes that during the interview, she underlined the positive contributions made by the Hizmet movement to education and socialization. Now, it is the responsibility of the NYT/IHT to review to what extent their reporters are abiding by the ethical rules of journalism and also launch an examination about their reporters who maliciously distorted Böhürler’s words. The NYT/IHT should never allow its respectability to be undermined by such false, fabricated and ill-intentioned news stories.

So far I have tried to understand how Bilefsky and Arsu twisted Böhürler’s words at will. But what about the rest of the article? How does it fare as regards the rightful respectability of the NYT/IHT? It is really hard for me to say “yes.” In addition to Böhürler’s twisted words, the article is rife with terrific distortions, and paranoias and illusions of certain marginal groups in Turkey. Despite the fact that thanks to the recently empowered democracy and legal system, Turkey is confronting pro-coup and pro-tutelage networks, the article re-uses without any sort of scrutiny numerous unfounded or unsubstantiated claims which these networks and some ever-marginalizing groups manufacture and use as black propaganda elements against the pro-democracy civilian movements.

The NYT/IHT should know that this is not the first time Mr. Gülen or the Hizmet movement has been attacked by such ill-intentioned, defamatory news stories or efforts. Indeed, some forces that are unhappy about the ever-increasing, extensive support for Mr. Gülen’s ideas have waged lynching campaigns many times, with an unprecedented hysteria, and also using the strong media capabilities available to them and all the foreign support they can muster. Sponsoring the penning down of dozens of books and newspaper articles and stories about him, they have tried to mobilize public opinion against Mr. Gülen and the Hizmet movement. In Gülen, a lawsuit was launched against Mr. Gülen because of these claims. However, as a result of the lengthy investigation and prosecution phases that spanned eight years, all of these claims were found to be false. Still, the smear campaign against Mr. Gülen continued without slowing down.

For some time, these nonsensical claims have been making forays into some foreign media networks, infamous for prejudicial/ill-intentioned reporting, under the influence of certain ever-marginalizing anti-democratic groups in Turkey. Sadly, I must say, the NYT/IHT’s above-mentioned news story falls into this category as well. Indeed, the reporting style of NYT/IHT’s Turkey reporters does not allow other ways. Does it have anything to do with a well-meaning reporting act to publish the claim -- marketed mainly by some marginal media networks -- that Mr. Gülen’s followers are infiltrating the police department, and to do this without any scrutiny or examination? Do the ethical principles of journalism give you the right to hide from the readership the fact that the court found that these claims were baseless as a result of lengthy investigations at the Police Department and its branches across the country? Seeing how the NYT/IHT, which I believe to be a respectable paper, parrots these stupid claims -- which had already been refuted by Turkish courts after lengthy investigations -- do I have any other choice than to perceive it as an ill-intentioned or evil-minded act of the reporters or editors?

On the other hand, anyone who drops by any bookstore in Turkey can readily see how Ahmet Şık was wrong to say, as quoted in the article, “If you touch them you get burned… Whether you are a journalist, an intellectual or a human rights activist, if you dare to criticize them you are accused of being a drug dealer or a terrorist.” Do Arsu and Bifelksky ever visit Turkish bookstores before pumping such nonsense into their articles at the respectable NYT/IHT? Do they, as reporters keeping an eye on Turkey for the NYT/IHT, read dozens of articles criticizing Mr. Gülen that appear in the papers every day? If these reporters do not know that Mr. Gülen is the person against whom the highest number of critical books are written in Turkey and that nothing has happened to the authors or publishers of these books, then this means that they are pursuing careers in the wrong profession. If you don’t believe me, you can go and ask Hikmet Çetinkaya, from Cumhuriyet newspaper, who dedicated the majority of his 40-year professional career to criticizing Mr. Gülen. (Please see http://www.todayszaman.com/news-251440-if-whoever-touched-gulen-was-doomed-we-would-have-been-ashes-by-now.html)

The cardinal proof that nothing happens to those who touch Mr. Gülen is the sheer number of columnists, journalists, newspapers and TV channels that relentlessly and unfairly criticize Mr. Gülen. Nothing is done to them, although these criticisms are seriously saddening his followers. The truth about this matter is different altogether. Recently, some people and groups who are being investigated by prosecutors and courts on charges of having shady ties with the Turkish deep state are trying to carve some protection for themselves and garner public support by falsely claiming that they undergo these investigations because of their criticisms against Mr. Gülen. As his lawyers carefully note in every press statement, Mr. Gülen or the Hizmet movement has nothing to do with the ongoing trials in Turkey.

Note: Those who are curious about the black propaganda and conspiracies against Mr. Gülen should read, “Wrestling with Free Speech, Religious Freedom, and Democracy in Turkey: The Political Trials and Times of Fethullah Gulen,” by James C. Harrington, an American human rights activist and the Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

Previous articles of the columnist